How Naj Austin Brought Ethel’s Club to Life
A social space for us by us is born in Brooklyn
The open floor thuds with the bass of music DJed by GabSoul, switching from Chance the Rapper’s “Ballin Flossin” to Disclosure’s “Voices.” Dishes clatter in the kitchen space as Angie Marin prepares food from her pop-up Wepa Arepa, while Alisa Bowens-Mercado’s Rhythm Brewing Company sets up its craft lager.
A boutique welcomes people in, featuring tote bags, vintage ’70s afro picks, “United We Shall Overcome” stickers, and a lovingly worn copy of Amistad 1: Writings on Black History and Culture. Lush green plants sit everywhere, art celebrating melanin adorns the walls, and carefully selected zines are scattered throughout.
Mirrored tables reflect the crowd of young creatives who’ve arrived in chic fall outfits and leather jackets, chatting in groups, taking selfies, and checking out the Instagrammable walls.
The intimate yet reverberating launch party includes people from all walks of life — faces Black, Brown, and White — from across the New York tri-state area and as far away as Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. It’s the end of the decade, volunteer Andrea Hernandez remarks, and it’s a reminder of how crucial it is to “create wealth among ourselves.”
For 28-year-old Naj Austin, this is all surreal. The founder of Ethel’s Club, a new social club for people of color, she only solidified the idea for the space at the end of 2018. Less than a year later — after a wildfire word-of-mouth marketing effort, ongoing press coverage, and the backing of high-profile investors — she’s opened her first location.
But Ethel’s Club is not about celebrity and attention, nor is it meant to be simply a co-working space.
“We are trying to be something bigger than that,” Austin says. “We’ve instead embraced the idea of wellness and being in a place where you can see a deeper change versus a place where you’re looking to find a desk.”
Austin understands the ins and outs of working in a nimble startup. She worked for two real estate service…